LONDON — Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth known for his dapper dress and controversial — at times racially offensive — sense of humor, has died at age 99, a few months short of his 100th birthday.
Buckingham Palace said Friday “It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen has announced the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.” The Palace said he “passed away peacefully” Friday morning at Windsor Castle. He had been hospitalized earlier this year, undergoing surgery for a pre-existing heart condition, and had returned home last month.
His funeral will take place at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, on Saturday, April 17, at 3 p.m. local time, but it will not be a state funeral and the duke will not lie in state, according to Britain’s College of Arms.
The College cited current COVID-19 restrictions, and urged members of the public to stay away from any events related to the funeral. COVID-19 isn’t the only reason for the relatively low-key affair. According to the College of Arms, the duke had also requested not to have a state funeral.
The royal family is urging people to make donations to charity instead of leaving flowers at Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle, and to sign an online book of condolence on the official royal website. The Queen, who was married to Philip for 73 years, is in mourning at Windsor Castle where the couple had been shielding during the pandemic.
The weekend newspapers, websites, TV and radio were brimming with tributes to, and recollections of, Philip, with most newspapers, including The Guardian, the Financial Times Weekend and The Independent giving over their front pages to portraits of the late royal. The tabloids were lavish in their praise of Philip as husband, father and social force.
“Farewell, my beloved,” was the headline in Saturday’s Daily Mail, which showed a picture of Queen Elizabeth with her husband in his military regalia, while the Daily Express ran with “Deep Sorrow: Today we join Her Majesty in mourning the loss of an extraordinary man,” while the Daily Star showed an image of Philip tipping his black bowler hat as if to say “farewell” with the accompanying headline “Her Rock,” referring to his relationship with the Queen. The Sun proclaimed: “We’re all weeping with you, Ma’am.”
Philip married the young Princess Elizabeth in November 1947, six years before her coronation, and was a constant companion, adviser and father to their four children. On their 50th wedding anniversary in 1997, the Queen described Philip as “quite simply, my strength and stay all these years.”
She said during a speech marking the anniversary that “I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know.”
Born on the Greek island of Corfu into the Greek and Danish royal families, Philip joined the British Royal Navy in 1939, and was on a fast track to success, serving in World War Two in the Mediterranean and the Pacific, earning the Greek War Cross of Valour, and becoming one of the youngest officers to be made First Lieutenant on two ships.
He gave up his military career when his wife was crowned Queen Elizabeth II, and spent the rest of his days serving the monarchy.
In between raising the couple’s four children — Princess Anne, Prince Charles, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward — he undertook more than 20,000 solo engagements on behalf of the royal family since the early 1950s. He retired from public life four years ago, aged 96, although he attended certain public events from time to time.
Philip would have turned 100 years old on June 10.
Anne Sebba, the biographer, historian and author of books including “That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor,” called Philip’s legacy “remarkable,” for a number of reasons. She noted that his life was one of duty and service to the monarch, the woman he loved.
“He found his own niche, and carved out a role for himself as a rock solid supporter of the Queen. He didn’t give up, beat his chest, or complain,” about his role, said Sebba. “He quietly got on with life and work and I believe the Queen would not have been the monarch she is without him. His life touched on so much history, he was clear in his own abilities, he was cosmopolitan and then he put all of that to work in supporting a woman, and an institution.”
Penny Junor, who has written biographies and books on myriad members of Britain’s current royal family, including Princes William and Harry, Prince Charles, Princess Diana and the Duchess of Cornwall, described Philip as a “modernizer,” urging the Queen to do away with the tradition of presenting debutantes at court, and starting up a series of intimate lunches with members of the public from various cultural and intellectual backgrounds.
Junor said the monarchy was quite a “staid” institution when Philip arrived, and he spent his years as prince consort “opening the windows and letting the light in.”
Ingrid Seward, editor in chief of Majesty magazine and author of “My Husband and I” (Simon and Schuster), about the marriage of the Queen and Prince Philip, said in a 2017 interview that he “contributed so much to the world.” Seward noted that the duke was one of the first public figures to warn about climate change and overpopulation, and to talk about the importance of environmental conservation.
“He was way ahead of his time,” she said.
The prince was a patron, president or a member of more than 780 organizations, and continued to support them after his retirement. He is best known for founding the Duke of Edinburgh Award and for steering the World Wildlife Fund. He was the first president of WWF-UK from its foundation in 1961 to 1982, and resident of WWF-International from 1981 to 1996. At the time of his death he was president emeritus of WWF.
The Duke of Edinburgh Award is the youth awards program that Philip founded in 1956, which has since been expanded to 144 nations. It’s open to those aged 18 to 24, and asks participants to take part in a variety of activities involving community service, fitness and developing new skills.
The duke was determined to help young people advance in life, perhaps because his own childhood had been difficult.
Philip was born in Greece in 1921, but his family was exiled when he was still a baby, following the Greco-Turkish war and the forced abdication of his uncle, King Constantine I of Greece. Philip’s family, though royal and privileged, moved frequently. By the time he was 10 his parents had separated (his father, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, was a notorious playboy) and his mother was in psychiatric care.
The young Philip was educated in various parts of Europe and later sent to Gordonstoun in Scotland, a tough, outdoorsy, survival-of-the-fittest boarding school before joining the British Navy in 1939, at 18.
“It was a very tough upbringing, and he was virtually an orphan by the time he was eight years old,” said Anne de Courcy, who has written about 20th-century society figures, including Coco Chanel, and who penned a biography of Princess Margaret’s ex-husband Antony Armstrong-Jones, Earl of Snowdon.
De Courcy noted that duty was of upmost importance to the duke, and he was unflinchingly loyal to the royal family. “He would have never stepped away from his duty,” she said.
Separately, the duke also founded one of the longest-running design awards in Britain, the Prince Philip Designers Prize, handed out by the Chartered Society of Designers.
On Friday, the British Fashion Council pointed out the duke’s contribution to design.
“The Prince Philip Designers Prize recognized exceptional designers who have broken new ground, and The Duke of Edinburgh Award has, and will continue to be, an inspiration to many, with his style and elegance always remembered,” said the BFC.
In an interview on Friday, BFC chief executive officer Caroline Rush described Philip as “such an inspiration, particularly when you grow up in the U.K., you hear all about the Duke of Edinburgh Award. It’s such an incredible opportunity.”
A Navy man to his core, he stood with ramrod straight posture as if always at attention, and was renowned for being tough, but also charming and sharp-witted. Even last year, at age 99 and in what had become a rare public appearance, Philip stood with a posture of someone seven decades younger — his hands behind his back and his shoulders firm.
He was renowned for his offensive quips and indiscretions, once asking native Australians if they “still throw spears,” and, in a joking comment that was nonetheless racist, warning British students they’d get “slitty eyes” if they remained too long in China.
The duke poked fun at, and offended, all sorts of people.
On Friday British tabloids, including The Express, recalled some of his comments over the years.
They included his response, in 1967, to a question of whether he’d ever visit the Soviet Union. The duke responded: “I would like to go to Russia very much, although the b——s murdered half my family.”
He called Tom Jones’ songs “hideous” and asked the multi-award-winning Welsh singer, “What do you gargle with, pebbles?” More recently, in 2001, while watching Elton John during the 2001 Royal Variety Performance he said: “I wish he’d turn the microphone off.”
Junor argued that the duke was not well-served by the media, that many of his quotes were taken out of context, or misinterpreted. “He was not racist or stupid, and most of his gaffes were an effort to try and put people at ease,” she said.
Oprah Winfrey, who interviewed Prince Harry and Meghan Markle last month, has made clear that neither Prince Philip nor Queen Elizabeth was responsible for racist statements allegedly made by a royal to the couple while they were serving as working members of the royal family.
Philip also had a very British talent for making fun of himself. Shortly before retiring, he attended Lord’s Cricket Ground in London to open a new stand and, according to the BBC, was heard making a joke that he was the “world’s most experienced plaque unveiler.”
During a royal lunch that same year a guest told the prince: “I’m sorry to hear you’re standing down.” The prince replied: “Well, I can’t stand up much,” the BBC reported.
Peter York, the social commentator, author and consultant, said in a 2017 interview that the perception of the duke evolved enormously in the public consciousness over the decades.
“He’s always been a very interesting and complex figure — and a rather glamorous one, too,” said York, whose books include “The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook,” its sequel “Cooler, Faster, More Expensive: The Return of the Sloane Ranger,” and most recently, “The War Against the BBC.”
Before he married Princess Elizabeth in 1947 he was considered, “The Catch, the handsome, well-connected young man,” among aristocratic and society ladies, according to York.
At the time York also pointed out that the public views of the prince were “distorted” for a while during the Princess Diana years (Philip — a master of discretion — didn’t get on well with the publicity-seeking Diana, who was beloved by the public), but now he’s seen as “clever old granddad.”
While he may be remembered for his controversial comments, the prince always knew how to behave in public, and to hang back with the sort of poise and grace befitting of a monarch’s consort.
His personal style, said Junor, was “very relaxed. He did not stand on ceremony,” and his preference was to travel in a black London cab rather than in a Rolls-Royce. “And he made people laugh — he was good at putting people at ease.” She said that one would know immediately where Philip was in a room by the laughter emanating from the space.
As a British Royal Navy officer, the prince learned early on about discipline, restraint — and how to wear a uniform to best effect. His daytime uniform long featured spread-collar shirts — mostly white; a colored, striped or subtly patterned tie, and a jacket with a natural shoulder. The crease in his trousers was always pronounced and his pocket square white and straight like a piece of cardboard.
“He was always elegant, stylish and impeccably dressed,” right down to the angle of his tweed cap, said de Courcy.
Tommy Hilfiger said he saw Prince Philip “as a true gentleman. His style was timeless with a sophisticated Old World charm. He obviously was very respectful of others which is more important than anything one could ever wear.”
Ralph Lauren said the prince, “had a quiet kind of elegance, understated and unfashionably fashionable. His timeless sophistication made him the epitome of a true gentleman.”
James Sherwood, author of “Savile Row: The Master Tailors of British Bespoke,” told WWD in 2012 that “One does not see (Philip) indulging in the sartorial high jinks of a Duke of Windsor, and he resolutely avoids fuss and unnecessary detail.”
“You do not see clouds of silk exploding from his breast pocket. You will not see extravagant tie knots in rich patterns. The duke necessarily chooses sober and robust British cloths. Like the Queen, his choices are practical,” said Sherwood.
His longtime tailor was John Kent, of Kent & Haste on London’s Sackville Street, off Savile Row. But while he may have a tailor on tap, the prince was known — like so many of the royals — for recycling his wardrobe.
In August 2008, just as the world was melting into the great financial crisis, the duke famously asked Kent — who was then working at Norton & Sons — to restyle a favorite pair of baggy herringbone trousers from the ’50s, making them narrower and more contemporary-looking.
At military events, the prince often wore the same naval uniform he donned for his wedding to Princess Elizabeth in 1947. For new military attire, he turned to Kashket & Partners, who outfitted Prince William and the page boys at the latter’s wedding.
“His style is very English and classic — and it hasn’t changed for years. And he’s amazingly fit and slender,” said Seward in 2017.
The duke was also able to work a sporty weekend look with ease. He preferred cords to jeans, and was never without his waterproof gear, tweeds and flat caps for those blustery weekends at Balmoral in Scotland or sunny strolls on the grounds of Windsor Castle.
“Because he was something of an outsider, he always went out of his way to look as quintessentially British as possible. Consequently, he was obviously Britain’s best-dressed man,” said Dylan Jones, BFC chair of men’s wear and editor of British GQ.
Roger Tredre, MA Fashion Communication course leader at Central Saint Martins concurred, describing the duke as “a great ambassador for classic British tailoring, particularly the double-breasted suit. In the 1950s and 1960s, he was genuinely influential — a young man with model looks who wore everything with a sense of ease, from military uniform to the kilt to the cricket sweater. As to his relevance for our times, it’s the understated outdoor looks that stick in the mind: the polo field attire, the sailing jumpers, the Riviera bathing trunks.”
The prince’s retirement came at a time when many TV viewers were just getting to know him — well, at least his fictional younger self — in the Netflix original series “The Crown.” Those early episodes centered on Queen Elizabeth’s life, beginning in the ’40s, when the prince’s long and colorful royal career began.